Portrait: National Truck Equipment Association

The National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA) markets itself as the official voice of the work truck industry-a bit of a feat since the work truck industry speaks many different languages.

In order to present one voice, NTEA must encompass diverse vocational needs ranging from refuse hauling to cement mixing, and from bucket trucks to snow plows, each specialization bringing its own set of problems and solutions to the table.

Tom Rawson, president, RKI, Inc., Houston, specializes in service bodies, cranes, winches and truck boxes. But that isn’t stopping him from lending a helping hand to other work truck specialists. This year, Rawson assumes the presidency of NTEA and gets ready to flex his trucking linguistics.

Rawson’s own company, RKI, has been around since 1911, successfully adapting to changes in the industry. The company started as a blacksmith shop, but began to sell truck parts as its main product line. Eventually, the company merged with Rawson Industries, Inc. RKI’s ties to the Rawson family date back to 1987.

Rawson pointed to discerning foresight as a big factor in his company’s success. “We try to see as far ahead as we can. We try to figure out what’s going to happen in the future and then we make adjustments before those things happen,” he said.

Rawson also quickly cited the quality of people with whom he works as an important company asset. When hiring, the company looks for happy, content people with good attitudes. If it comes down to hiring for skill or hiring for attitude, Rawson often chooses a winning demeanor over technical know-how.

“We look for people who seem intelligent. We try to treat everyone with respect and make this a place where people want to come to work. Our people have been a huge advantage for us,” Rawson said.

Another key to RKI’s success has been keeping abreast of changes in technology. “We keep an eye on new technology that comes along, but we don’t necessarily buy everything new that comes out,” Rawson said. “We try to understand what it is and assess whether or not it would benefit us.”

Sorting through myriad technological changes infiltrating the trucking industry is a task that NTEA hopes to help its members successfully complete. The organization never has shied away from helping the work truck industry address and cope with big issues.

NTEA was founded in 1964 as a marketing group for a small contingency of truck equipment distributors. Since its inception, the group has grown to represent more than 1600 companies that manufacture, distribute, buy, sell, install and repair commercial trucks, truck bodies, truck equipment, trailers and accessories, according to its web site.

The organization provides an abundance of training programs and forums to foster communication and growth, improve environments, increase product quality and develop camaraderie among members.

NTEA also is a resource for the government when it confronts the trucking industry. Work trucks often have additional, specialty equipment attached to a chassis, and according to Rawson, these trucks frequently are subjected to a variety of sometimes complicated government regulations.

“Sometimes an event will occur and the government will react and pass a law, but it’s not educated enough about what the impact of what it’s passing will be. The government doesn’t always recognize all the things that will be affected in the background, so we work very closely with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to be a resource for them.

“We make suggestions to help it fulfill its purpose while not causing unnecessary problems for the members of the truck equipment industry. NTEA is a good reference source for NHTSA,” Rawson said.

After navigating a network of government chassis and equipment regulations, the work truck industry finds itself challenged by the trend toward the vertical integration of parts. In order to lend a helping hand, NTEA has developed several different programs for its members. One such program is called Closing The Gap.

“Closing The Gap is a customer-based approach to competitive differentiation, which is designed to help the distributor and manufacturer members identify existing opportunities and improve their positions. NTEA also has a VIP program, which helps promote members for the types of services and requirements they have in their own companies, so that you know you’re dealing with a credible and legitimate business.

“Then there is the SPEQ program, which stands for Sales Productivity Earnings Quality. It’s an educational tool that helps people develop their sales and productivity and to do so profitably while maintaining high quality,” Rawson explained.

Rawson has been with NTEA for about a decade and looks forward to helping it further develop its goal to provide information and communication avenues for participants in the truck equipment industry.

As for his own company, “We want to take over the world,” Rawson laughed. “We’re a company that focuses on extreme high-durability and good customer service. We understand what we’re trying to do and that we have to provide good products that interest people and expect that we’ll be successful.”

The self-awareness and savvy Rawson described at RKI is what NTEA strives to help all work truck companies achieve, no matter what their specialty.

Facts & Figures

  • NTEA’s The Work Truck Show (WTS) is the nation’s largest gathering of vocational trucks and transportation equipment from Classes 1 to 8.
  • NTEA hosts a variety of educational sessions at the WTS for distributors and manufacturers, fleet and leasing companies and truck dealers.
  • NTEA has a comprehensive web site, www.ntea.com, complete with news, marketplace information, technical resources, government regulations, business resources and a member resources segment.
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